UH senior Porter Bradley finished his senior campaign as a runner-up in 16:42.
Bradley took a big gamble by taking the lead on the second inner loop and looked good going into the final outer loop.
However, lurking back in the field was the state champion in the 800 meters in the spring: Emerson Fulton of Gatlinburg-Pittman. Fulton was in third going into the outer loop, but was well within striking distance.
Coming down the final stretch, it was Bradley, Fulton and Alex Ponce of Merrol Hyde Magnet running three-wide into the last 200 meters. Fulton’s speed proved to be superior as he pulled away in the dying seconds of the race to win by just over a second and a half in 16:41.
“I’m really happy with my race,” Bradley said. “I gave it everything I had, and I’m glad I get to go out like that my final race of senior year. I wanted it so bad in the last 200. I really couldn’t feel my legs after that and I knew it was going to hurt, but the pain would be worth it.”
Blake Ryan — running the last parts of the season with a stress fracture in his leg — finished fifth in 17:29 for an all-state medal.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our boys,” University head coach Maggie Whitson said. “They raced hard. Porter raced from the gun and ran with something to prove. Our three, four, five, six and seven all stepped up to help defend that state title.”
Dillon Messermore of Chuckey-Doak was also an all-state finisher in 14th, crossing the line in 18:05.
Hayden Charles and Nick Daniel finished 26th and 27th respectively while Thomas Johnson rounded out the scoring for UH with a 32nd-place finish.
The Bucs won with 79 points over Signal Mountain (94).
The Buccaneers were coming off of a third-place finish last year and were looking to get on the podium this year.
The Bucs had an outstanding race with 99 points, finishing second to Signal Mountain (44) and were led by senior Ali Burns, who finished 10th and made all-state in 21:13. Freshman Isabelle Johnson also made all-state, finishing in 12th in 21:38.
“It’s my senior year this year, so it was awesome to see the girls come together and finish strong,” Burns said. “I feel confident that I did pretty well even though I lost some spots. We had some really strong girls that graduated last year and to improve one spot is just awesome.”
“The girls raced fantastic. They came together as a team last year and left a little disappointed not getting on the podium,” Whitson said. “They wanted that plaque and they worked really hard all season to get it. They all raced well from front to back.”
Anna Bader was third across the line for the Bucs, finishing 20th in 22:16 while Camila Rivas was 34th and Anna Davidson was 48th.
Other local finishers included Happy Valley’s Olivia Absher (94th; 25:50) and Holly Moore (95th; 25:51).